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First issues - John C. Kirk

Feb. 28th, 2014

01:00 am - First issues

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A few new comics have launched this month, so I've picked up issue #1. I intend to keep reading them all (i.e. I'll be buying #2), but they varied in quality.

First up, She-Hulk #1. As I've mentioned before, I really enjoyed Dan Slott's run on the title, and Charles Soule seems to be taking a similar approach by emphasising her legal career. Soule recently took over Swamp Thing, and he's been doing a decent job there. One interesting thing about him is that he's a practicing lawyer as well as a comics writer, so a comic about a lawyer seems like a natural fit for him.

Next, New Warriors #1; this is the fifth incarnation of the series. I started reading the first volume in 1995, just after I graduated from university. I thought it was really good, and I have some of the original artwork hanging on my wall, but unfortunately it was cancelled a year later with issue #75. Last year, Marvel published a hardback omnibus of the first 30-odd issues, and hopefully there will be a couple more to cover the rest of the series. Volume 2 came out in 1999, with a new creative team, and lasted 11 issues; I bought them all, but that was mainly out of loyalty and the hope that it would improve. Volume 3 came out in 2005, and only lasted 6 issues; again, I bought them, but I don't think I've re-read them since, and the only notable thing was that it laid some groundwork for Marvel's big "Civil War" event. Volume 4 came out in 2007, but I gave up on it after #1; apparently it lasted until #20. So, with these diminishing returns, how does volume 5 hold up? Surprisingly well. Some of the characters are very familiar, there are a couple who I vaguely recognise, and others who I know nothing about at all. However, they all get a turn in the spotlight, and I'll be happy to hear more about them. The writer (Chris Yost) has been doing a good job on the Scarlet Spider series for the past couple of years; sadly that's now been cancelled, but hopefully some of the plotlines will continue over here.

This next one is a completely new series rather than a relaunch: The Royals: Masters of War #1. This is a tricky one. It's the first issue of a 6 issue series, and I think that the story as a whole will be worth reading. However, if you've read any of the adverts for the series then you already know almost everything that happens in this issue, so you could just skip it and start with #2. That's not necessarily a problem, because the characters need to get to the relevant point in the story; when I watched Spider-Man (2002), I knew that Peter Parker was going to get spider-powers, but I was willing to wait while he figured it out. Unfortunately, this comic also involves expository dialogue, i.e. characters telling each other things that they should both already know, solely for the reader's benefit. So, it seems to get the worst of both worlds.

This comic is set during the second world war, and the basic concept is that the British royal family have always had superpowers. However, the current King and his (adult) offspring have deliberately stayed out of the war, and most of the population don't think that they have superpowers at all. That's a cover story, because the French and Russians killed off their (superpowered) royal families during revolutions, so the British King didn't want to be next. Fair enough, I'll accept that.

The problem is that we hear about this when two military officers are talking at a reception (inside Buckingham Palace), and the Colonel is telling his deputy (a Squadron Leader) about these historical events. Surely the deputy should already know all this? Or if he didn't, is this really the right place to brief him on confidential information, when the British royals are in the same room? I can only assume that the Colonel was drunk, especially since he went on to punch one of the royals in the face. I think this would have worked better as a prologue. Alternately, if the goal was to show the Colonel in a near-suicidal act of defiance (treason?), he could have referred back to those events when he confronted the Prince. E.g. "You think you're so high and mighty, but that won't last forever! Remember what happened in France and Russia, and you'll be next!"

At the end of the issue, one of the young royals (Prince Henry) decides to enter the war, destroying some enemy bomber planes. When the King reads about this in the paper, he's not impressed. "Henry, you utter bloody idiot. Do you really think that we're the only royal family with power?"

After the story finishes, the next page is an advert for this series. That's a slightly odd choice; either they're just printing it in every comic, or they want to make sure that people who've read this issue stick around for the rest of the series. Quoting the relevant text:

So, to the "Masters of War." When we meet our "heroes" the Second World War is under way, and Britain is being heavily bombed by Nazi Germany. And Royals across the world have signed a treaty never to get involved in the wars of commoners.

But the noble-minded Prince Henry sees the London he loves burning and can take no more. When he intervenes, the treaty is broken. Every Royal on Earth enters the conflict, including the most powerful of them all, the immortal Emperor Jimmu of Japan...


So, that advert has still told me more than even happened in this issue. Hopefully there are some surprises left to come. Leaving that aside, it means that we have the opposite of exposition: characters who don't tell each other things that they really ought to. In this case, the King signed a treaty, but neglected to tell his children about it. He ordered them not to use their powers, but he didn't say why. Maybe if Prince Henry had known about that then he wouldn't have flown off on his own! Actually, I think that some kind of superhuman cold war (the equivalent of a nuclear deterrent) could be an interesting premise for a story, so it's a pity that this comic didn't explore it.

Still, the artwork's good, and the writer (Rob Williams) has done competent work for 2000AD. Hopefully the rest of the series will be better, now that most of the cards are on the table.

This next comic isn't exactly new, but it's new to Comixology: Mr T #1 from Mohawk Media (originally published in 2011). I think this title really appeals to nostalgia; arguably, "Mr T" is just as much of a fictional character as BA Baracus, i.e. the actor might not behave like that all the time when he's out of the public eye. It only costs 69p, so you can't really go too far wrong at that price, but I doubt that I'll carry on with the rest of the series.

Going a bit further back, Sandman Overture #1 came out at the end of October. It's a 6 issue series, so on a normal (monthly) schedule it would be almost finished by now. It was intended to be bi-monthly, but issue #2 has been delayed a couple of times, and it's now due in late March. (Bleeding Cool have sarcastically suggested that we should get a new issue every September.) Anyway, #1 was a good issue, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series: it has the things that I liked about the original series without just being a repeat, and I get the impression that Gaiman actually has a specific story to tell.

However, if you haven't started yet, I recommend waiting for the eventual collection. Aside from pacing issues, I think the layout will work better in a book. I read the digital version on my iPad; there are lots of double page spreads, which mean that they have to be shrunk down to half size in landscape mode. There's also a four page spread: the paper copy had pages that folded out, but the digital copy had a zoomed out version of all four pages (in "letterbox" mode) followed by two double-page spreads in landscape mode. However, House to Astonish reviewed this issue (starting about 35 minutes into episode 113); they reported that the paper copy has several adverts which interrupt the story. So, the hypothetical book should have full size pages without adverts.

Even further back, Nonplayer #1 was published in 2011. The story involves some kind of virtual reality world (apparently a MMORPG like "World of Warcraft"), where some of the non-player characters seem to be developing lives of their own. That's an interesting premise, and the artwork is really good. However, there's no sign of issue #2 yet. I'll keep following it if/when future issues appear, but I'd advise anyone else to wait for the collection.